Super Mario 3D World
Nintendo’s initial reveal of Super Mario 3D World was not a resounding success. The video of Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach prancing through green, Mushroom Kingdom-like isometric levels looked too pedestrian for many gamers to accept as the next big 3D Mario game that would breathe new life into Nintendo’s ailing next gen system. “It looks like Super Mario 3D Land HD!” collectively cried thousands of gamers. “Where’s Galaxy 3?” Surely this was the beginning of the end for the century old company, and Mario and friends would be gracing mobile devices and competing consoles within the year.
Then came the second video showing, months later, which highlighted a greater variety of levels and gameplay mechanics. Things looked…better. Was the oft-heard cry of “Nintendoomed!™” uttered too prematurely? As the screenshots, video snippets and nuggets of information trickled forth from Nintendo’s marketing team, the pieces started to fall into place. This could end up being one of the classics – a game to sit alongside Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario World as the cream of the crop in a persistently stellar series.
And indeed it is. But, why? Super Mario 3D World is not revolutionary. The game doesn’t offer up a fundamental shift in the way we think about and play videogames. That’s not to say new features and mechanics aren’t there, because they are. But 3D World doesn’t challenge gaming conventions in a way that, say, Super Mario 64 did back in the mid 90s. And that’s OK. Instead, the wizards over at EAD Tokyo have put together a watertight and unabashedly fun platforming experience that sprinkles key new ideas over an intoxicating cauldron of nostalgia and classic Nintendo mechanics.
Explaining what makes makes 3D World so fantastic is not easy. In most games, there are a few main hooks that can easily be conveyed to the potential buyer. Skyrim offers up a huge fantasy world to explore and the chance to create varied and unique character builds. Bayonetta provides cheeky humor and high-octane action. If these hooks are appealing to the buyer and implemented well by the developer, then chances are the game is worth purchasing. The problem is, 3D world doesn’t have a few obvious hooks. It doesn’t even have a handful. There are dozens and dozens of hooks strung together across the game’s many levels and worlds, most of which could be the cornerstone elements of entire games in and of themselves.
Experiencing these hooks as they come is one of the great joys of playing 3D World, so listing them here would be a great disservice. Therein lies the conundrum when trying to review the game. This much can certainly be said: whether you were a fan of Super Mario Bros. 2,Super Mario 64, or any of the other mainline Mario games, there will be something here for you to enjoy. Most new levels, and even disparate sections within certain levels, provide a unique gameplay discovery – a feat that few other games have been able to pull off. And these discoveries don’t end after clearing all eight “standard” worlds. More experienced series fans would do well to steel themselves for additional challenging content, though veterans of EAD Tokyo’s previous games should know what to expect.
One new gameplay element that is safe to detail here, as it’s been shown off by Nintendo since the moment 3D World was announced, is the Super Bell. Acquiring this power up transforms the player character into a cat suit-wearing, wall-climbing, goomba-swatting furball of destruction. If there’s one central thread that weaves through the entirety of the 3D World experience, it’s the mechanics surrounding this new item. Many levels have a verticality unseen in past Mario games, with green stars, stamps, warp pipes and other secrets hidden at the top of tall structures or in cleverly placed nooks, only accessible with the cat suit. Because of the Super Bell’s versatility, it’s usually the best power up for almost any situation; without it, the player is frequently unable to acquire all of the unique collectibles tucked away in a given level. In a way, the Super Bell feels like the Fire Flower in the original Super Mario Bros. – collecting it and maintaining the boon it grants is a constant goal.
“…a watertight and unabashedly fun platforming experience that sprinkles key new ideas over an intoxicating cauldron of nostalgia and classic Nintendo mechanics.”Another compelling new item is the Double Cherry. This bit of innocuous-looking fruit gives you an extra version of yourself to control when collected. Combine the fact that you can spawn a small army of clones by acquiring additional Double Cherries with EAD Tokyo’s devilishly creative level design and you have a recipe for some crazy platforming fun and solid belly laughs, especially when experienced with a friend or two (or three). In fact, all of the game’s many items, both old and new, lend themselves well to the game’s local multiplayer hijinks, especially in some of the more complex, later levels. When it comes to laugh-inducing, shoulder-jabbing couch co-op on the Wii U, it doesn’t any better than this.
The proverbial Double Cherry on top of this already succulent feast is the best presentation found in a mainline Mario game, ever. Of course, that’s somewhat to be expected considering this is the most recent game in the series on Nintendo’s most powerful console, but the success here goes beyond just technical merit and raw polygon pushing. Artistically, this is the best Mario and company have ever looked, with a special mention going out to the bad guys, especially Bowser, whose cartoon menace is exhibited to perfection. There’s a tangible physicality and polish to the characters and world that surpasses even the great Super Mario Galaxy (and its sequel). On top of that, the game’s soundtrack hits all the right notes (sorry, couldn’t resist), by offering up fully orchestrated tracks that go above and beyond Nintendo’s usually more, well, videogamey sounding work.
“…best presentation found in a mainline Mario game, ever.”In the end, the only real complaints that can be leveled at 3D World are: 1) the game’s lack of sustained challenge for seasoned gamers and 2) the inclusion of the Invincibility Leaf. In regards to the former, there is challenge to be had, but it comes fairly late in the game and experienced gamers will manage to pick their way through most of what EAD Tokyo throws at them after a handful of attempts. If you are looking for Battletoads, this is not it. The Invincibility Leaf falls into the same area of criticism, as the invulnerability it provides is offered up too readily and pretty much trivializes many of the game’s levels. An option to turn it off completely would have been welcome, though one can certainly adopt house rules that state the item must be shunned if it does pop up after several deaths.
Super Mario 3D World might have been met with skepticism when it was first unveiled, but any hands-on time with the game after release illuminates the fact that, yes, the developers over at EAD Tokyo truly are masters at their craft. While not as revolutionary as Mario 64 or Galaxy, 3D World manages to feel simultaneously fresh and nostalgic in a way the New Super Mario Bros. series never quite realized. Simply put, this is the fascinating confluence of old and new Nintendo, and one of the best multiplayer platformers ever created. Do you own a Wii U? If yes, then get this game. Do you not own a Wii U? If not, buy one, then get this game.